Gigabit Ethernet for the masses

It could be said that the Gigabit Ethernet landscape has become like the market for Razor Scooters - those chrome, foot-propelled toys that every kid seems to own. While once expensive and available only from a few vendors, these days it seems everyone's making them, and they're only getting cheaper.

A recent slew of cheap Gigabit Ethernet product announcements from many vendors backs up this notion, with several Gigabit switches and network interface cards (NIC), and even laptop adapters available now or on the horizon. These announcements also signal the mainstreaming of Gigabit Ethernet, according to one analyst.

Gigabit Ethernet is becoming a network commodity, says Lauri Vickers, an analyst with Cahners In-Stat Group. Just as Fast Ethernet and Layer 3 switching quickly went from bleeding-edge to run-of-the-mill LAN technologies, so goes Gigabit Ethernet.

Asanté Technologies Inc. next week will announce a 12-port Gigabit Ethernet switch for connecting servers to a backbone or high-end users to network. The company's IntraCore 65120 features 10 10/100/1000M bit/sec ports (fiber or copper) plus two Gigabit Interface Connector (GBIC) interfaces for uplinks. The key to the Asanté offering is the price, around US$400 per Gigabit Ethernet port. (Market research firm International Data Corp. estimates the average per-port price for Gigabit Ethernet ports was about $1,000 last year). Also, the Asanté switch is has a backplane of 38.4G bits/sec, which could help avoid congestion when traffic is high.

Also getting into the act was Netgear Inc., which released an eight-port Gigabit box and a copper-based Gigabit NIC. Netgear's GS508T is an eight-port, copper-based Gigabit box that is priced at $215 per port. However, the device has no GBIC uplink ports and has a backplane of 16G bit/sec. Each port on the box can autosense 10/100/1000M bit/sec connections.

Netgear's Gigabit NIC comes is also copper-based, and can support 64-bit and 32-bit PCI buses on Intel-based servers. At $180, the adapter costs less than half the average industry price for a Gigabit Ethernet NIC in 2000, which IDC estimates to be about $460. Not to be outdone, consumer and small office/home office networking vendor D-Link Systems Inc. last week also released a copper-based Gigabit Ethernet adapter, priced at $129.

And finally, on the 1000M bit/sec NIC front, OEM component maker Marvell Technology Group Ltd. announced last week that it is shipping Gigabit Ethernet transceiver components for laptop PC Card adapters and integrated LAN-on-motherboard adapters for laptops. The company says its Alaska Ultra PHY transceiver can autosense 10M to 1000M bit/sec links and could be used on Mini PCI or Card Bus Type 2 adapters. Users might expect laptop NIC vendors to soon have Gigabit products on the market.

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